فصل 02

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فصل 02

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Chapter two

The Case Opens

At eight-thirty in the morning, Nicholas slipped through the unlocked back door of the courthouse and went up to the second floor. He knew the building well. Three weeks earlier, unnoticed, when there was no one around, he’d explored the area around the courtroom, including the Judge’s chambers, the witness rooms and, of course, the jury room. He went there now, and found Lou Dell sitting outside the room, reading a romantic novel.

“Good morning. Can I help you?” Her entire face was one large smile.

“Nicholas Easter,” he said as he reached for her outstretched hand. She found his name on her paperwork.

“Welcome to the jury room. Is this your first trial?”

“Yes.”

“Come on,” she said, pulling him into the room. “Coffee and cakes are over here. I made these cookies myself.”

Nicholas poured black coffee into a plastic cup. There was a list of instructions for the jurors from Judge Harkin, including the order that they couldn’t discuss the case with anyone. They couldn’t even discuss the case with each other, until instructed by the Judge. Nicholas signed the list at the bottom, as requested.

The door opened with a kick, and Mr. Herman Grimes entered with his walking stick tapping along in front of him. His wife was close behind, describing the room to him under her breath. Nicholas introduced himself.

“My favorite uncle’s blind,” Nicholas said. “I’d consider it an honor if you’d allow me to assist you during the trial.”

“Thank you,” said Herman, after a brief pause.

“Thank you, sir,” his wife said.

At ten o’clock, Judge Harkin looked around the crowded courtroom and decided that everyone was in place. “Bring in the jury,” he said. The jurors walked in.

“Good morning,” said the Judge. “Do we have a foreman?”

“It’s me, Your Honor,” Herman Grimes said.

The lawyers and jury consultants for the defense were worried by this choice of foreman, but their expressions remained warm and positive.

Nicholas Easter looked cautiously around the courtroom. On the second row, behind the defense, Rankin Fitch sat trying to look uninterested in the jury, but Nicholas knew better. Fitch missed nothing. Fourteen months earlier, Nicholas had seen him in the Cimmino courtroom in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Nicholas knew that Fitch would have investigated his background and found that some of what he’d said wasn’t true.

There were also small groups of people whom Nicholas was certain were the jury consultants. The selecting was done, so now they moved to the next phase - watching. They listened to every word spoken by every witness, and predicted how the jury would react. If a witness seemed to make a bad impression on the jury, they could be removed, sent home, and replaced by another witness.

After a sign from the Judge, Wendall Rohr started his opening statement. He told the jury that he’d prove that Mr. Jacob Wood, a fine fellow, developed lung cancer after smoking cigarettes for almost thirty years. The cigarettes killed him. How could they prove that cigarettes caused lung cancer? They’d bring along cancer experts, and talk to people who used to work in the tobacco industry.

Rohr finished in fifty minutes, smiled, and sat down. Durwood Cable, for the defense, spoke for under thirty minutes. He calmly assured the jurors that Pynex had its own experts who would clearly explain that cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer. Cable spoke without notes, looking carefully into the eyes of each juror. His voice and stare were honest. You wanted to believe this man.


The first crisis occurred at lunch. Judge Harkin announced the noon break at 12:10, and the jurors left the court. Lou Dell took them to the jury room.

“Just have a seat,” she said, “and lunch will be here in a moment.”

Herman Grimes took a seat at the head of the table next to Millie Dupree, a kind woman of fifty who actually knew another blind person. Nicholas introduced himself to Lonnie Shaver, the only black man on the jury and the manager of a grocery store.

Twenty minutes passed, and no lunch appeared. At twelve-thirty, Nicholas said, “Hey, Herman, where’s our lunch?”

“I’m just the foreman,” Herman answered with a smile, as the room was suddenly quiet.

Nicholas walked to the door and asked Lou Dell to come in.

“We re hungry,” he said.

Lou Dell looked at the other eleven faces and said, “Its on the way.”

“Where’s it coming from?” he demanded.

“O’Reilly’s restaurant. Just around the corner.”

“Listen,” said Nicholas. “We can’t go out and eat a nice lunch like normal people. So if lunch is going to be here, I hope there isn’t going to be a problem every day. I suggest you get on the phone and find out where it is, or I’ll discuss it with Judge Harkin.”

The door closed.

“That was a bit hard, don’t you think?” asked Millie Dupree.

“Maybe, and if it was, I’ll apologize,” said Nicholas. “But if we don’t get things organized at the beginning, they’ll forget about us. Do you realize that in almost every trial, they allow the jurors to go out and eat?”

“How do you know?” asked Millie Dupree.

“I know a little about the system. I had two years of law school.” The other jurors were impressed.

No food had arrived by 12:45.

“It should be here soon,” said Lou Dell nervously. “I’m really sorry.”

“Where’s the men’s room?” asked Nicholas.

Lou Dell gave him directions, but Nicholas walked past the door and out of the courthouse to Mary Mahoney’s, a local restaurant. Nicholas had done the same walk a week ago - and had even eaten at a table close to Judge Harkins. He went up to the Judge’s table.

“Sorry to interrupt, sir,” Nicholas said.

“What are you doing here?” Harkin asked.

“I’m here on behalf of your jury. While you’re having a nice lunch here, we’re sitting in a tiny room waiting for food. We’re hungry, and we’re upset.”

Harkin stood up. “Well, let’s go and see.”

When they got back to the jury room, the table was bare. No food. The time was 1:05.

Lou Dell suddenly arrived. She was breathless. “I’ve just talked to O’Reilly’s,” she said. “Someone called them to say we wouldn’t need lunch until one-thirty.”

“These people are starving,” said the Judge. He turned to the jury. “I’m very sorry. This won’t happen again.” He paused, looked at his watch, and smiled. “I’m inviting you to follow me to Mary Mahoney’s and join me for lunch.”

The restaurant served the jurors with delicious grilled seafood. Nicholas was the hero of the day.

Later, Mr. O’Reilly met with Judge Harkin. He swore on a Bible that he’d talked to a woman who said she was ringing from the courthouse. She’d instructed him to deliver lunch at exactly one-thirty.

The trials first witness was the dead man, Jacob Wood, testifying on a video which had been filmed a few months before his death. He was thin and pale, and sounded sick. He was fifty-one and looked twenty years older.

When the jury felt sleepy, the Judge gave them a break. The four smokers needed a cigarette, and Lou Dell took them to a separate room.

“If you can’t stop smoking after this trial, something’s wrong,” she said, jokingly.

The four didn’t smile. Jerry Fernandez, thirty-eight, a car salesman with casino debts and a bad marriage, lit his cigarette first. Then he passed his lighter to the three women.

“Here’s to Jacob Wood,” Jerry said. The three women said nothing - they were busy smoking. One of them was a tall woman with a long pointed nose, called Sylvia Taylor-Tatum, “I wonder who’s next?” Jerry continued.

“I guess all those doctors,” Sylvia replied, sucking hard on her cigarette.


The woman’s name was Marlee; at least that was the name she’d chosen for this period of her life. She was thirty, with short brown hair and brown eyes. She’d been in the courtroom before and she knew her way around. She sat in the back row, and just before the Judge arrived she asked one of the deputies to deliver a letter to Rankin Fitch.

Fitch was surprised to see his name on the envelope. No one knew his name, except his employees and clients. He read the note: Dear Mr. Fitch:

Tomorrow, juror number two, Easter, will wear a gray and red sweater, white socks, and brown leather shoes.

Fitch went up to the deputy who was standing by the courtroom door.

“Who gave you this?”

“A woman. I don’t know her name.” Fitch questioned the deputy about her appearance and voice. With Jose, his driver, he looked around the first floor of the courthouse. Then, as if they were just enjoying some fresh air, the two men walked around the outside of the courthouse. Who was she, and what was going on?


Fitch had thought about entering Easter’s apartment before, but now he knew it was necessary. He sent Jose and another man, Doyle, to the apartment building while Easter was in court. Inside, Doyle photographed the apartment. He was there for no more than ten minutes.

Nicholas left the courthouse on foot and stopped at O’Reilly’s for some food. He was certain he was being followed. When he got to his apartment, he entered a four-number code on the door before he unlocked it. He went to his computer and found that an illegal entry had occurred at 4:52 P.M. The secret camera, hidden above the refrigerator, had filmed Doyle. Nicholas watched the video and stared at Doyle’s face. He’d never seen him before. Nicholas smiled as he saw Doyle looking at his computer. It was impossible to enter. Doyle couldn’t even find the power switch.


At eight the next morning, Fitch was hiding in a van by Easter’s apartment and watched him walk out into the sunshine. Fitch looked out of the van window. “I don’t believe it!” Gray and red sweater, white socks, brown shoes. Fitch went straight to his office. “We have to find the girl,” he said. “She has something for us.”

His office was in the back of an empty store. No one noticed the place and it was just a short walk from the courthouse. Two men with guns guarded the door at all times. The furniture was cheap, but the office was full of the latest technology. The walls of one room were covered with photos of the jurors.

The room at the back was the smallest, and was kept locked. It was a viewing room. One of Fitch’s people had hidden a tiny camera in a document case which was placed in the courtroom under the defense table and which secretly filmed all the jurors. In the viewing room, two jury consultants watched the results on a large screen. When Fitch talked to Cable, he could tell him how the jurors seemed to be feeling. Cable, however, didn’t know about the hidden camera.


The deal was organized over a three-hour lunch. Luther Vandemeer, CEO of Trellco, one of the Big Four tobacco companies, and his friend, Larry Zell, of Listing Foods, had already talked about it on the phone. Trellco wasn’t in court this time, but the Big Four had to stand together. Zell understood. He’d worked for Trellco for seventeen years.

There was a small, regional grocery company, Hadley Brothers, which owned stores along the Mississippi coast. One store was in Biloxi and its manager was a smart young black man called Lonnie Shaver, who by chance was on the jury in the Pynex trial. Vandemeer wanted one of Listing Food’s divisions, SuperHouse, a much larger group of grocery stores, to purchase Hadley Brothers. It would be a small deal, and nothing could go wrong. Listing and Trellco were totally independent of each other, and Listing was already in the grocery store business. Later, of course, there would need to be a reorganization of the company, and pressure could be put on Lonnie Shaver to support the defense.

They needed to act quickly. The trial was only due to last for four more weeks.

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